October 23, 2013, 7:55 AM —
I have received a large number of questions on this topic over the last couple of months. Here are my thoughts and suggestions on the topic.
To begin, making the decision to move forward toward an advanced college degree brings with it years of personal commitment, large sums of money, and the opportunity cost of where your mental commitment, time and money could otherwise be spent. Because of the personal enormity of this decision on your life, please consider my thoughts to be a single data point in your decision to, or not to, move forward.
I would like to begin my answer to you by using myself as the case study. I began my career as a software developer working on business-related software. I had also decided very early in my career that even though I truly loved doing technical work (and still do), I wanted to move into the management ranks. I made this decision based on my thought that this was what everyone did, rather than any in-depth analysis and/or understanding of what I was doing.
Because of this decision, I started a part-time MBA program at night at Babson College, aggressively moved through my coursework and completed the program in about three years. For me and my chosen direction of IT management, getting my MBA was a wonderful decision. I learned about business not only from my professors, but also from my fellow students, both of which were not in technical professions. For me, given my chosen career direction, yes, an MBA was certainly worth my time, money, and occasionally sweat and tears.
If early in my career I had made a different decision, to stay technical, rather than aspire to the ranks of IT management, I would have pursued a Masters in Computer Science.
I believed then and I believe now that having an advanced degree in itself may not help you, but not having one can hurt you. The reason I say that an advanced degree won’t necessarily help you is because, once hired, you still have to perform well on the job. The reason not having an advanced decree can hurt you is because when applying for a new job, you will be competing against people with Master degrees. On paper, all other things such as experience being equal, other job candidates will appear to have a higher level of professional expertise and commitment to their career than you do. In essence, having a Masters will help you open doors, but it’s your ability, professional reputation, interview skills, commitment to professional excellence, and personal connections that allow you to walk through the door and get the job.
Beyond simply words on a resume, there are also other very significant reasons why a Masters degree can be of great value to you, including the following: